Horizontal Gene Transfer Building Prokaryote Genomes: Genes Related to Exchange Between Cell and Environment are Frequently Transferred
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has a major impact on the evolution of prokaryotic genomes, as it allows genes evolved in different contexts to be combined in a single genome, greatly enhancing the ways evolving organisms can explore the gene content space and adapt to the environment. A systematic analysis of HGT in a large number of genomes is of key importance in understanding the impact of HGT in the evolution of prokaryotes. We developed a method for the detection of genes that potentially originated by HGT based on the comparison of BLAST scores between homologous genes to 16S rRNA-based phylogenetic distances between the involved organisms. The approach was applied to 697 prokaryote genomes and estimated that in average approximately 15% of the genes in prokaryote genomes originated by HGT, with a clear correlation between the proportion of predicted HGT genes and the size of the genome. The methodology was strongly supported by evolutionary relationships, as tested by the direct phylogenetic reconstruction of many of the HGT candidates. Studies performed with Escherichia coli W3110 genome clearly show that HGT proteins have fewer interactions when compared to those predicted as vertical inherited, an indication that the number of protein partners imposes limitations to horizontal transfer. A detailed functional classification confirms that genes related to protein translation are vertically inherited, whereas interestingly, transport and binding proteins are strongly enriched among HGT genes. Because these genes are related to the cell exchange with their environment, their transfer most likely contributed to successful adaptation throughout evolution.
KeywordsHorizontal gene transfer Evolution Phylogenetic tree incongruence Transport proteins
AP, WL, and CM designed and developed the method. CM defined the strategy and supervised. HA, CP, BC, and DB analyzed the data. HA, AP, and CM wrote, discussed, and edited the manuscript. AP, HA, and BC prepared the figures. WL discussed and edited the manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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